Insatiable Smith sets marker for another prolific summer

Steve Smith drew level with Sir Donald Bradman on 29 Test centuries in his first red-ball knock of the summer, setting the scene to replicate two of his most prolific seasons

Steve Smith's feverish desire to recapture the form of his golden 2014-15 summer could well be fulfilled over the coming weeks if history is anything to by.

Despite carrying an irritating, though not debilitating, hip niggle suffered after he misused a piece of new-age gym equipment last week, Smith surged to his 29th Test century on the second morning of the NRMA Insurance series opener.

It was one of the 33-year-old's most subdued century celebrations, taking advantage of a generous field set for Roston Chase's off-spin, gently taking a single to long-on who was, remarkably, one of three fielders stationed on the boundary despite Smith being one away from a ton, before acknowledging the crowd and his onlooking wife Danni in muted fashion.

The right-hander has conquered far more threatening bowling attacks that this West Indies one, yet this latest milestone is a reminder of his generational brilliance.

Only Sir Donald Bradman (79 innings) and Sachin Tendulkar (148) have needed fewer hits than Smith (155) to get to the 29 Test hundreds milestone.

It is a significant number because that is the amount the incomparable Bradman finished with after his 52 Tests.

That Smith has gotten there quicker than Matthew Hayden (166), Ricky Ponting (169), and Steve Waugh (244) – the only other Australians to have reached 29 centuries – only adds to the argument he is Test cricket's greatest batter since Bradman.

No active player has more Test hundreds than Smith.

In case you don't know me: Steve Smith

But the statistic Smith will be more immediately encouraged by is the one that suggests he is on track to replicate his '14-15 home campaign against India when he saluted centuries four times in as many Tests.

On the two other occasions Smith scored hundreds in the first Test of an Australian home season (in '14-15 with a 128 in Adelaide and in '17-18 with his 137 at the Gabba against England) he went on to average more than 100 for the summer – 128 in the former, 137 in the latter.

Former Australia captain Ricky Ponting said on Channel Seven: "I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen him bat better."

Marnus Labuschagne, whose partnership with Smith was nearing the 250-run mark on Thursday, revealed at stumps on day one that he believed the peak of his middle-order partner's career was the 2019 Ashes.

"From an onlooker, that's the best I've seen him bat," said Labuschagne.

Smith, however, disagrees.

"I always look at 2014-15, that series against India and that (ODI) World Cup period where I felt as though I was batting the best I have," Smith told reporters in the lead-in to this Test.

"It feels as though it has all come together and hopefully it's a perfect storm this summer.

"Whilst I try to replicate and get my technique to a point where I was in '14 and '15, hopefully it can be better than that. That was obviously a pretty prolific summer for me. But if I can top that it would be great."

Technique changes first trialled in the middle during Australia's one-day series in Sri Lanka in June have been fine-tuned over recent months, and finally unveiled to a home audience for the first time in the longest format in Perth.

Gone is the trademark step across his stumps and bowl-at-the-stumps-if-you-dare attitude.

In its place is an emphasis on staying side-on to allow him to better score off the front foot through the off-side and through the on-side off the back foot.

Although the Windies lack the firepower that might have troubled Smith on the seaming surface rolled out for the Western Australian capital's first post-pandemic Test, he has still required much of the problem-solving nous teammates revere him for.

Smith found the boundary just once in his first 32 balls after coming to the crease at 2-151 before tea on day one.

The tiring Windies attack allowed both him and Labuschagne to cash in during the final session as Smith reached his fifty in just 75 balls.

It took him a further 105 deliveries to get to triple figures as the surface continued to aid the visitors through day two.

"He has hit the middle of the bat, his decision-making has been very clear," said Ponting "His scoring has been all around the ground has been different than other seasons as well.

"He said it was coming … He told us during the one-dayers that things were different, things were going to change, my technique’s better, I’ve never felt better.

"Once again, the hard work is paying off."

Men's NRMA Insurance Test Series v West Indies

Nov 30 – Dec 4: First Test, Perth Stadium, 1:20pm AEDT

Dec 8-12: Second Test, Adelaide Oval, 3pm AEDT (day-night)

Australia squad: Pat Cummins (c), Scott Boland, Alex Carey, Cameron Green, Marcus Harris, Josh Hazlewood, Travis Head, Usman Khawaja, Marnus Labuschagne, Nathan Lyon, Steve Smith, Mitchell Starc, David Warner

West Indies squad: Kraigg Brathwaite (c), Jermaine Blackwood, Nkrumah Bonner, Shamarh Brooks, Tagenarine Chanderpaul, Roston Chase, Joshua Da Silva, Jason Holder, Alzarri Joseph, Kyle Mayers, Anderson Phillip, Kemar Roach, Jayden Seales, Devon Thomas

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